The XE’s cabin is otherwise a bright and pleasant place, and not just because cherry-red leather radiates energy. The cockpit is as uncluttered as the exterior, and there are clear sightlines in every direction. The gear-selector knob still sinks into the console when the vehicle powers down, but the interior is otherwise free of gimmicks to test the warranty. Thankfully, you won’t find a capacitive-touch glove-box release or robotized air vents here.
Dimensionally, the XE’s cabin fits right in with those of its peers, which is to say that Jaguar engineers know most XEs will spend the bulk of their time working lonely commutes. The high, flat center console creates the sense that there’s added space between the driver and co-pilot. Moving four adults, however, requires that either the front occupants sit closer to the dash than they’d like or that the rear-seat passengers fold their knees into the seatbacks. The trunk can easily hold four carry-ons, but a stepped floor makes packing a bit awkward.
Weighing 3787 pounds, our XE S lands in line with the steel-intensive BMW 335i, making all this fuss about aluminum a bit of a mystery. Strategically placed steel aft of the rear-passenger footwells helps balance the weight distribution when there’s a gas or diesel four-cylinder up front. With the six-cylinder, though, that’s not quite enough, and the car carries its weight split 52.6/47.4 percent, front to rear.
While the XE outruns a BMW 335i from a standing start, the Jag gives up four-tenths of a second in both our 30-to-50 and 50-to-70-mph passing tests, which are conducted with the transmission in its standard mode. The sensations and sounds from the driver’s seat suggest that the XE gives up all that time during the initial downshift. When pressed to kick down three, four, or five cogs at a time, the torque converter slurs the shifts in a manner that’s uncharacteristic of the acclaimed ZF eight-speed gearbox.
2017 JAGUAR XE
Jaguar wants its XE to be known as the driver’s car in its class, and that claim might go uncontested in the Old World, where the 3-series barely hangs on to its reputation. But the Brits are either inexperienced with the Cadillac ATS or willfully ignorant of its charms. The American sports sedan holds an edge in steering feel, turn-in, and at-the-limit behavior. The Jaguar’s advantage is that it offers most of the Caddy’s sharpness without the flinty ride. The XE drives like a maxi-Miata, only without so much body roll. It’s rolling proof that soft cars aren’t always sloppy and sporty models needn’t be stiff.
It doesn’t help that the supercharged V-6 starts with a plus-sized block. Pop the hood and it’s obvious that this engine stretches longer than a typical V-6. Jaguar made this decision so that vehicles offering both the 3.0-liter six and 5.0-liter eight-cylinder engines, such as the F-type and the Range Rover, can use common engine-mount locations.
The XE won’t exactly be fresh when it finally arrives at U.S. dealerships in early 2016. European-market cars are already flowing out of Solihull from the longtime Land Rover facility that, with the addition of the XE, is now turning out two-wheel-drive vehicles for the first time in 34 years. North American execs, hoping to give the XE every opportunity for success, won’t import it until the four-wheel-drive models are rolling off the line. Even then, we’ll have to wait an additional six months for what will surely be the most popular engine, an all-new gasoline four-cylinder. At the outset, American buyers will only have the option of a 180-hp diesel or the driver’s choice, the supercharged, 340-hp V-6–equipped Jaguar XE S that we drove.
Jon Darlington, engineering manager for the Jaguar XE, describes Tata Motors as the perfect parent, always willing to give its children a loan yet never so meddlesome as to dictate how the money is spent. The F-type may have been a rash, indulgent way to spend dad’s money, but it became the brand’s modern icon. Now, Jaguar appears focused on sensible spending. This new sports sedan ushers in Jaguar’s new aluminum-intensive architecture, which will also spawn a fresh XFfour-door and the F-Pace crossover, creating a trifecta of new vehicles where luxury sales are thick on the ground.
If the infotainment system and trunk are the XE’s greatest weaknesses, well, we can live with that. The F-type proposed a Jaguar that was more aggressive than we’d previously known [see our long-term test]. The XE preserves the F-type’s intent, putting driving dynamics at the top of luxury-car priorities, while also lowering the brand to a more accessible place. You might get lost if the XE’s nav system is leading the way, but at least you’ll be in a car that makes getting lost fun.
On public roads, where stability is the greater virtue, the XE inspires confidence while still being playful. Climbing the Pyrenees on a switchback staircase, the Jag balances instant-on power with a calm and composed chassis. The electrically assisted, variable-ratio steering system relays precisely how the front tires bite at turn-in, slide over a patch of gravel midcorner, or stutter at the limit of adhesion as you exit a hairpin.
A little extra fat doesn’t keep the XE S from hustling, though. The Eaton supercharger feeds up to 11.6 psi of air into the cylinders to squeeze 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque from 3.0 liters of displacement. With an almost Porsche-like mechanical rasp, the six-cylinder provides immediate thrust off the line that builds progressively, and the torque remains on ready standby while cruising. For the quickest acceleration, simply stab the throttle from a stop. The XE lunges to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and steams through the quarter-mile in 13.1 seconds at 106 mph. Those figures are near the front of the class even without the assistance of four-wheel drive or computer-modulated launch control.
It also appears that the system’s designers gave as much priority to cheery aesthetics and downloadable apps of questionable merit as they did to the core-user experience. Entering a destination, you will wait whole seconds between . . . each . . . letter . . . typed as the system considers which letters to lock out so you don’t line up 14 consonants in a row. You might as well be using IBM punch cards.
In a competition to provoke maximum aggravation, the contest between Jaguar’s new InControl Touch entertainment-and-navigation system and Cadillac’s CUE would be too close to call. Perhaps we should invoke the folly of MyFord Touch here, too. You need only glance at the Jag’s center stack to see that it has too few physical buttons.
The deluxe seats—14-way power-adjustable thrones—are barely bolstered, so you’ll have to brace a leg against the door panel or console to explore the tires’ limits. The seats are comfortable on the highway, though. We were still happy to spend time at the wheel even after a two-day, 1200-mile blitz from Spain’s wine country to our testing venue near France’s Mediterranean coast and back. Then again, Europe’s shoe-box hotel rooms could make a Smart Fortwo seem accommodating. Over all those miles, including sprints through the mountains and back-and-forth slogs for photography, the XE drank enough high-octane fuel to average 23 mpg.
The chassis honors the mantra of Sir William Lyons—grace, pace, and space—with its crisp responses and refined manners. These are long-standing Jaguar strengths, made even more adroit with the two-mode electronically adjustable dampers that are standard on the S model. At an elevated clip, the XE smooths pavement and straightens corners with its suppleness and precision. Shod with the stickiest rubber on the menu—20-inch Pirelli P Zeros—the XE S recorded 0.96 g of lateral grip and stopped from 70 mph in 151 feet, well ahead of anything we’ve measured from its competition.
Power arrives at the rear tires through an open differential, while the brakes imitate a mechanical torque-vectoring system. In steady-state cornering on the skidpad, the XE approaches the limit with benign understeer. On a circuit, the chassis obliges trail-braking into a corner or exiting under power with subtle rotation. Without Jag’s electronic limited-slip differential, though, the XE S is nowhere near as wild nor as wildly entertaining as the feral XFR-S.
And with it, Jaguar gets a cohesive look for the whole lineup. If you find the XE attractive but not eye-catching, that’s fine by the designers. Ian Callum’s team fussed over proportions rather than character lines, graphics, and details. Going forward, though, Jaguar may face the same challenge that Audi does today: How do you make a car so clean and restrained and familial seem fresh after it’s been on sale for three years?
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